A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to catch a double-bill, featuring artists from the legendary Sub-Pop label. Bedroom rock breakout star((s)? – it’s left somewhat ambiguous as to whether the project is a band or a persona…) Frankie Cosmos, and experimental noise musician, Ian Sweet (who had ditched her bandmates and gone solo) were joining forces and embarking on a mammoth tour together. Having very much enjoyed Cosmos’s latest record, 2018’s Vessel, I jumped at the chance to attend the London leg, and found myself at the newly re-branded “EartH” (previously Hackney Arts Centre) venue in Dalston on a rainy Monday evening.
Frankie Cosmos (who is really Greta Kline) has always relied on a peculiarly voyeuristic faux intimacy to engender interest in her lo-fi bedroom pop. Kline’s disarming honesty about all aspects of her life, from the totally mundane (periods and jet lag) to the deeply personal, has powered her songwriting to new heights in the wake of her breakup with longtime partner and previous Cosmos drummer, Aaron Maine (who was known professionally as the musician Porches).
Unfortunately, almost from the moment I open the door into the repurposed theatre, I get the feeling that any sense of intimacy is going to be difficult to achieve, given the dimensions of the space. To make matters worse, Ian Sweet struggled with serious technical problems at the beginning of her set, as she tried to operate a dazzling array of electronics single-handedly whilst simultaneously playing the guitar and singing. It’s clear that Jilian Medford has songwriting talent, but she also has a particularly breathy voice that tended to drown in the natural reverberation that comes with amphitheatrical setups, like EartH. It’s a shame, because 2018’s Crush Crusher was a superb self-produced effort, though I question whether ditching your backing band, and simultaneously trying to upgrade to larger shows is really a wise decision.
Thankfully, any technical issues are solved before Frankie Cosmos hit the stage, however Kline also struggles somewhat with the cavernous dimensions of the playing space. Her voice is pure and pretty, but it is seldom powerful (although she does have the ability to project) and it can suffocate if it’s not given room to breath. This issue seems to be compounded by the band’s choices of gear – everything looks as if it’s chosen to maximise the bedroom aesthetic, rather than to carve out a unique band of the EQ spectrum. Muddy bass and tinny guitars can work well on a record, where the effect is deliberately used to try and put the listener in a specific headspace, but unfortunately it simply doesn’t translate well to larger sized venues, where the listener’s space is preordained.
The best moments in the show are the songs without bass and drums – it’s almost as if by magic, Kline’s voice is lifted, projected and clarified, and just for a moment I feel that the precious intimacy has been recaptured. We soon return to muddier waters however, and the stage is rushed by a legion of Cosmos devotees, giving the whole thing somewhat of a school disco vibe. Kline sings beautifully, and in tune; the band play together in time remarkably well (given that many of their songs involve tricky tempo changes), and the songs are well written; yet I’m left feeling that something is fundamentally missing for Frankie Cosmos in this particular setting. Perhaps a smaller, more intimate venue is the best way to experience their music.
Catch up on all Frankie Cosmos’ latest releases via Bandcamp, here.